Pokémon tackles sleep health with upcoming app, tracking device

Launching in 2020, Pokémon Sleep will feature gameplay that responds to the player's sleep habits.
By Dave Muoio
12:13 pm
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The summer of 2016 was dominated by a digital wellness app that few saw coming: Pokémon Go, a mobile game that used GPS and augmented reality to encourage players to explore real-world locations. And while the initial spike of mainstream consumer interest dropped off within a few months, The Pokémon Company and app developer Niantic (a Google spinout) have gradually won players back with content updates that include in-game rewards for distance travelled, the Pokémon Go Plus connected pedometer and, of course, more creatures to capture.

Now it would appear that the firm responsible for the single highest-grossing media franchise in history is turning its international influence toward sleep health. During a press conference held last night, Tsunekazu Ishihara, president and CEO of The Pokémon Company, announced the development of a new app called Pokémon Sleep that will monitor players’ sleep and reflect their habits in game.

“Exploring the real world was one of the themes of Pokémon Go, and through that game Pokémon trainers all around the world began to spend more time walking outdoors. We believe we are able to take the simple human act of walking and turn it into entertainment for many people around the world,” Ishihara said through a translator. “After walking, we decided to focus on the act of sleeping. Everyone spends a large part of their lives sleeping, and turning that into entertainment is our next challenge at Pokémon.”

To do so, The Pokémon Company will employ a new Bluetooth device, created by longtime partner and major shareholder Nintendo, dubbed the “Pokémon Go Plus +”. As the name implies, the product is an augmented version of the existing step counter that, as depicted in an accompanying video, captures sleep duration and behavior data when placed near the user.

“Use it as a Pokémon Go Plus device during the day … and at night, you can put it on your bed and it will track simple information about how long you sleep,” Kazuhiro Maruyama, head of device development at Nintendo, said through a translator. “This is accomplished by the embedded accelerometer, and the results are sent to your smartphone via Bluetooth technology. By combining the sleep tracking features with the functionality of a Pokémon Go Plus, this device can help transform both the time spent walking about throughout the day, and also the time spent sleeping at night into something more fun and enriching for everyone.”

Pokémon Sleep is slated to launch sometime next year, according to Ishihara, and is being worked on by third-party game developer Select Button, whom previously had worked on a mobile title for the company. Specific details on the app’s gameplay, features and additional functionalities are slim, in particular whether or not it will solely interact within the Pokémon Go ecosystem or be incorporated into the mainline Pokémon games as well.

WHY IT MATTERS

The launch and popularity of Pokémon Go made it clear the influence Pokémon has on consumers, especially those in younger demographics. But while increased physical activity is something of a secondary effect of the app (and can often be sidestepped by players with little detriment), Pokémon Sleep is being designed from the ground up with sleep health in mind. As such, even a fraction of the success Pokémon Go enjoyed would still be a net benefit for the health of its players.

WHAT’S THE TREND

While their results have varied, video games have been a persistent strategy for health engagement, behavior change and therapy. While some like Pokémon Go and dacadoo Go use geolocation and rewards to promote activity, others have looked to educate patients about their conditions or scare teens aware from harmful behaviors and substance abuse.